Despite its breathtaking beauty, storied history, and eye-catching architecture, Old Havana is a destination that most people will never have heard of. Located on the paradisiacal Caribbean island of Cuba, it is a place steeped in ancient lore, dripping with an inimitable cultural heritage and captivating mystique.
Old Havana manages to evoke a dazzling cocktail of colourful contemporaneity married to faded grandeur. Its streets are lined with stunning, old colonial buildings, and live music rings through its cobbled squares like a constant, enchanting lullaby. For the erstwhile traveller, it offers timeless charm, unimaginable natural beauty, and sublime beaches.
Here are just five of the places in Old Havana that are worth visiting…
#1: Catedral de San Cristobal
Old Havana is a wonderland of grand baroque and neoclassical buildings, and the Cuban baroque Catedral de San Cristobal, located in the Plaza de la Catedral, is one of the best examples. Completed in 1777 by the Franciscan order of monks, it began as the brainchild of the Jesuits 29 years before. Two exquisitely sculpted bell towers, adorned with inlaid columns, flank its towering façade. Its grandeur continues inside the building, with breathtaking vaulted ceilings and a striking statue of St Christopher.
#2: Bodeguita del Medio
The Bodeguita del Medio is a restaurant made famous by Hemingway, and today’s cuisine is just as delectable as its earlier wares. The celebrated scribe is not the only well known fan of its delicious Cuban menu; Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Nat King Cole have also numbered amongst its patrons. Step through its doors for heavenly cocktails, succulent seafood, and live Cuban music, finished with the rich ambiance of nostalgia.
#3: Castillo de la Real Fuerza
For those with a taste for history, the 16th century fortress, Castillo de la Real Fuerza, is another must-see destination. Designed by Francisco del Calona to repel attacks from marauding pirates, its inland position meant that it was never used for its original purpose, but instead became a storehouse for valuables, and a residence for military notables and the gentry. Today, it hosts an engaging maritime museum inside its six metre thick, 10 metre high walls, continuing to enchant visitors with its beauty and grandeur.
#4: Casa del Conde Jaruco
Located in the Plaza Vieja, the Casa del Conde Jaruco is also well worth a visit. One of the square’s many restored buildings, this 18th-century marvel features exquisite stained glass windows that thousands of visitors have flocked to see. Once offering a view across a thriving marketplace, the scene glimpsed through the coloured glass today is no less impressive, and it is well worth visiting for the view of the square alone.
#5: Camera Obscura
The final destination to add to your list should be the city’s camera obscura. This 35-metre tower offers breathtaking views across the Plaza Vieja and surrounding cityscape, granting a unique perspective across the old marketplace, the rows of eclectic buildings, and the stunning 18th century fountain bubbling in its centre.
If you’re looking for an exotic utopia, visit Old Havana this summer.